Perfect pumpkin creations for fall

Horticulture Hints

With Halloween just around the corner, it is time to select pumpkins for jack-o-lanterns or to personalize for fall decorations. Perk up your autumn landscape with a display of these traditional fruits of the season.

From dark to light orange, white and even blue, pumpkins are available in several hues. Sizes range from the huge giant types, as seen exhibited at the Iowa State Fair, weighing several hundred pounds, to the tiny miniature pumpkins.

Pumpkins are a member of the cucurbitaceae family, which also includes squash, gourds, cucumbers and melons. Pumpkins and other cucurbit plants are unisexual, which means both male and female flowers develop on the individual vines. Honeybees are the primary pollinators for the flowers of this plant family. But as plants in the cucurbit family easily cross-pollinate with each other, fruit from seed saved will probably not grow to be the same as the parent plant. As any nearby growing squash, gourds or other type pumpkins can mix their pollen, this can create some very interesting looking fruit from saved seed that is grown.

For a longer lasting display on your front porch steps, bring your pumpkins indoors if there is a danger of frost is in the overnight forecast. Exposing carved jack-o-lanterns freezing temperatures will break down cell walls, cause the rind to soften, and leads to early spoilage.

Painting pumpkins is an easier way to decorate, rather than dealing with a sharp carving knife, for a fun family activity with children. Acrylic paints work well and as they are water-soluble, allow for the easy cleanup of little helping hands. Spray your finished creation with a clear acrylic sealer, to protect the paint when displayed in an outdoor environment. Perhaps try a metallic spray paint to give your pumpkin a basecoat sheen of gold, copper or silver.

Did you know? Pumpkins ripen best on the vine, but as long as they have started to turn color, they will continue to ripen when stored under the proper conditions. Keep partly green pumpkins in a well-ventilated garage or outbuilding to continue ripening. The best temperatures for color to continue to develop is between 80 to 85 degrees.

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Questions? Contact McCormick at yvonne@iastate.edu for information or advice.

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